Not rated | Time: 1:40
“I pitched every game in the major leagues under the influence of drugs.”
So says Dock Ellis, the Pittsburgh Pirate who threw a no-hitter while tripping on LSD. “No No: A Dockumentary” is an intelligent look at Ellis’ up-and-down career and the treatment of African-American baseball players in the mid-1960s and ’70s.
Ellis could be considered their unofficial spokesman. He was a black militant who got in trouble for wearing curlers and considered himself the Muhammad Ali of baseball. Ellis was raised in Los Angeles, and when he encountered Southern segregation as a minor-league player, he wasn’t about to let it go.
The documentary does a good job on his career and life, using interviews with Ellis, former teammates, family members, friends and former wives. But the chronology sometimes goes awry, and there are obvious omissions, including his relationship with Hall of Fame teammate Willie Stargell. There could also be more details on Reggie Jackson’s monster homer off Ellis in the 1971 All-Star Game.
On the field, Ellis was known as an intimidator — just his gum-chewing could scare a batter. He didn’t have a great fastball, so he lived by the curve, sinker and spitter.
Ellis’ life spiraled out of control after the tragic death of his mentor and friend Roberto Clemente in a plane crash. Throughout the film, Ellis is open about his problems but becomes slightly belligerent when asked about Clemente. His reaction is understandable when the interviewer asks him whether Clemente was really that great a ballplayer — a stupid question, as anyone who saw Clemente in action knows.
The film is fine in depicting Ellis’ times, but it’s mostly how he came to realize that he had a serious problem and turned his life around to become a drug-abuse counselor. He died in 2008 at age 63.
The most poignant moment comes when Ellis breaks down while reading a letter of praise from Jackie Robinson about Ellis’ contribution to the betterment of African-Americans. In the end, Ellis had the same principles as Robinson.
(At Alamo Drafthouse.)
| Leba Hertz
San Francisco Chronicle